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United Airlines v CIR

Villarama, 2010

DOCTRINE: The matter of prescription raised by petitioner is a NON-ISSUE; thus, the prescriptive periods under Sections 203 and 222
(NIRC) find no application in this case.

FACTS:
United Airlines, Inc. (UA) is a foreign corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of Delaware, U.S.A., engaged in
the international airline business. UA used to be an online international carrier of passenger and cargo (i.e. it used to operate
passenger and cargo flights originating in the Philippines). Upon cessation of its passenger flights in and out of the Philippines
beginning February 21, 1998, UA appointed a sales agent in the Philippines (Aerotel Ltd. Corp. - an independent general sales agent
acting as such for several international airlinecompanies). UA continued operating cargo flights from the Philippines until January
31, 2001.
April 12, 2002 - UA filed with the CIR a claim for income tax refund, pursuant to Sec. 28(A)(3)(a) of NIRC 1997 in relation to Article
4(7) of the RP-US Tax Treaty.
o Citing the change in definition of Gross Philippine Billings (GPB) in the NIRC, UA argued that since it no longer operated
passenger flights originating from the Philippines beginning February 21, 1998, its passenger revenue for 1999, 2000 and
2001 cannot be considered as income from sources within the Philippines, and hence should not be subject to Philippine
income tax under Article 9 of the RP-US Tax Treaty.
o Under the new definition of GPB, Philippine tax authorities have jurisdiction to tax only the gross revenue derived by US
air and shipping carriers from outgoing traffic in the Philippines. Since the BIR erroneously imposed and collected
income tax in 1999 based on UAs gross passenger revenue, as beginning 1998 UA no longer flew passenger flights to and
from the Philippines, UA is entitled to a refund of such erroneously collected income tax.
As no resolution on its claim for refund had yet been made by the respondent and in view of the 2-year prescriptive period (from
the time of filing the Final Adjustment Return for the taxable year 1999) which was about to expire on April 15, 2002, UA filed on
said date a petition for review with the CTA.
CTA 1
st
Division ruled that no excess or erroneously paid tax may be refunded to UA because the income tax on GPB under Section
28(A)(3)(a) of the NIRC applies as well to gross revenue from carriage of cargoes originating from the Philippines. It agreed that UA
cannot be taxed on its 1999 passenger revenue from flights originating outside the Philippines. However, it was found that UA
erroneously deducted 2 items from its gross cargo revenue in 1999 (commissions and incentives of its agent). These deductions were
erroneous because the gross revenue referred to in Section 28(A)(3)(a) of the NIRC was total revenue before any deduction of
commission and incentives. UA even underpaid its taxes on cargo revenue by P31.43 million, which amount was much higher than the
P5.03 million it asked to be refunded. UAs MR DENIED. CTA En Banc AFFIRMED CTA 1D.
UA argues that the denial of its claim for refund is tantamount to an offsetting of its claim for refund of erroneously paid GPB
against its alleged tax liability. The well-entrenched rule is that internal revenue taxes cannot be the subject of set-off or
compensation. Further, since CIR did not issue an assessment for any deficiency tax, the alleged deficiency tax on its cargo revenue
in 1999 cannot be considered a disputed assessment that may be passed upon by the CTA. The authority to issue an assessment for
deficiency internal revenue taxes is vested by law with the CIR, not with the CTA. Finally, UA argues that any assessment against it
for deficiency income tax for taxable year 1999 is barred by prescription. The prescriptive period within which an assessment for
deficiency income tax may be made has prescribed on April 17, 2003, 3 years after it filed its 1999 tax return.
CIR maintains that the CTA acted within its jurisdiction in denying petitioners claim for tax refund. It points out that the objective
of the CTAs determination of whether UA correctly paid its GPB tax for the taxable year 1999 was to ascertain the latters
entitlement to the claimed refund and not for the purpose of imposing any deficiency tax. Hence, UAs arguments regarding the
propriety of the CTAs determination of its deficiency tax on its GPB for gross cargo revenues for 1999 are clearly misplaced.

ISSUE & HELD: WON UA is entitled to a refund of the amount it paid as income tax on its passenger revenues in 1999 (NO)

RATIO:
Under Section 72 of the NIRC (Suit to Recover Tax Based on False or Fraudulent Returns), the CTA can make a valid finding that UA
made erroneous deductions on its gross cargo revenue; that because of the erroneous deductions, UA reported a lower cargo revenue
and paid a lower income tax thereon; and that UAs underpayment of the income tax on cargo revenue is even higher than the income tax
it paid on passenger revenue subject of the claim for refund, such that the refund cannot be granted.
The CTA explained that it merely determined whether UA is entitled to a refund based on the facts. On the assumption that UA filed
a correct return, it had the right to file a claim for refund of GPB tax on passenger revenues it paid in 1999 when it was not
operating passenger flights to and from the Philippines. However, upon examination by the CTA, UAs return was found erroneous
as it understated its gross cargo revenue for the same taxable year due to deductions of 2 items consisting of commission and other
incentives of its agent. Having underpaid the GPB tax due on its cargo revenues for 1999, UA is not entitled to a refund of its GPB tax on
its passenger revenue. The CTA therefore correctly denied the claim for tax refund after determining the proper assessment and the tax
due. The matter of prescription raised by UA is a non-issue. The prescriptive periods under Sections 203and 222of the NIRC find no
application in this case.
Tax refunds, like tax exemptions, are construed strictly against the taxpayer and liberally in favor of the taxing authority.